By Ray Hickson
A year after celebrating his biggest victory, reigning Golden Slipper winning trainer Gary Portelli is having a different experience in the lead up to Saturday’s feature at Rosehill Gardens.
Eventual winner She Will Reign carried the weight of plenty of expectation following three wins from four starts leading in but it’s not the same journey with Portelli’s 2018 contender Secret Lady.
For starters, Secret Lady only secured her place in the $3.5m Longines Golden Slipper (1200m) by running fourth in last Saturday’s Magic Night Stakes.
She Will Reign was always one of the favourites before jumping as an $8 chance in the Slipper, following a defeat in the Reisling Stakes, while Secret Lady is a rank outsider at $101 with TAB.
“I was able to eat breakfast this time, last year I was too nervous,’’ Portelli said after the barrier draw.
Secret Lady runs fourth in the Magic Night Stakes at Rosehill on March 17
“We’ve got a knack of getting horses qualified now. Lucky enough last year we had the horse to do it.
“Most of the time you have to get them qualified early if you can, it takes the pressure off you later in the season. She’s a trier and on a wet track she could be very competitive.’’
Gai Waterhouse is the last trainer to prepare successive Slipper winners in Pierro (2012) and Overreach (2013).
Portelli said Secret Lady will need the right scenario to play out for her to be in the finish of the Slipper, despite being dismissed by most as an also-ran.
“I would have liked a softer gate because I think she needs to take the short cuts,’’ he said.
“From that gate (11 if emergencies aren’t required) there might be seven or eight horses faster early and she might be able to slot in.’’
What gives Portelli some heart that Secret Lady can spring some sort of surprise is the Widden Stakes back on February 3 where she finished seventh, four lengths behind Fiesta.
Punters Intel data revealed that the filly covered more ground than any other runner in that race at Randwick where she was a $3.10 favourite.
“She had 58kg and was trapped four deep and she had to get tired,’’ he said.
“For her to be favourite and have that happen suggests whatever Fiesta’s price she should be the same.
“She certainly hasn’t gone backwards. I like the way she’s been at trackwork the last couple of days, dragging the rider out to do her work.
“That’s always a good sign in young horses.
“When they start warming up in the morning and jack up and not wanting to go onto the track is a bad sign. But she’s got out on the track like she hasn’t raced on the weekend.’’
If there’s a negative to Secret Lady’s preparation for the Slipper it’d be the fact it’s been a bit rushed as she was originally set for the Magic Millions.
But Portelli said you’ve got to be in it to win it and the filly hasn’t given him any reason why she shouldn’t be lining up.
“Every horse is different. You just have to play the horse,’’ he said.
“Now that I know I can do it I’ll try to do it again.’’
Meanwhile, She Will Reign will be chasing her third Group 1 on Slipper Eve when she contests the William Reid Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley.